Three Customer Onboarding Strategies to Improve Product Adoption

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Despite wishes and expectations, most products—particularly the more complex, B2B ones—do not sell themselves. A common belief among tech firms is that customers will understand and appreciate their “better mousetrap” almost entirely on their own. They believe that the features and benefits of their products are self-evident and compelling enough for customers to buy and adopt them readily.

Such beliefs can quickly lead to disaster unless countered by a mature customer success practice. Sometimes this does not fully manifest itself until later in the company’s growth. In the technology adoption lifecycle, popularized by Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm, visionaries are indeed likely to understand and appreciate the better mousetraps. Early adopters may or may not. The majority of the addressable market—that beyond the initial slope of the curve—almost certainly will not.

Three strategies can be key to improving not only initial sales but broader and deeper product adoption. Before entertaining these, it is important to recognize that the sale and broader and deeper product adoption are two entirely different things. It may be possible to land a customer based on great sales work and engaging to varying degrees with customer expectations, hopes, needs, and fears. ROI and value selling can be instrumental in such sales. The problem is that what caused a customer to make a purchase is typically not what will ensure a deep and broad uptake and usage of a product and lead to retention, expansion, and reference selling. Breadth means use by multiple people in multiple roles. Depth means getting more value and functionality from the product.

The first customer onboarding strategy recognizes that onboarding and adoption is not something you do to or for your customer. Onboarding is a process, and it must be owned jointly by the customer and the vendor. Communication is crucial. Goals and expectations need to be laid out on the table. It requires the discipline of actually listening to customers.

Having at least four primary calls or meetings throughout the entire process, with plenty of communication in between, can be especially productive. The first is a strategic alignment call to introduce the teams, initiate relationship-building, understand and establish the use-case, and ensure goal alignment, particularly in terms of what the customer really expects and needs. The second is the deep dive call to determine how the product is to be configured, the integrations and use-cases to address, and how the features can support the desired use-cases. The third is the testing call which covers open issues after integration and configuration have been completed and issues have been resolved to help the customer make fullest use of the platform’s benefits. Finally, the end user training call is focused on getting end users to use the product.

The second strategy involves an understanding that onboarding and implementation is different for different kinds of customers. This means that a one-size-fits-all approach will simply not work. Standardizing processes and creating playbooks is great, but there needs to be different ones for different situations, and they all need to be flexible. Type of market, size of customer, maturity level, and specific use case demands all affect the process or playbook. At the same time, companies can learn from their customers how to be successful in vertical markets or use cases beyond those they originally envisioned. It is important to transfer these learnings from the customer onboarding team to counterparts in sales, marketing, support, product development, and other key functional areas of the company.

The third strategy is to use continuous measurement. Often, companies wait until the completion of onboarding to conduct a customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey. Measuring throughout the process will enable fine tuning and course corrections to avoid customer loss or dissatisfaction later. Augment this with product usage data or observations of customers using the product. Ideally, there are both qualitative and quantitative measures. It is also important to continually improve not just the onboarding process but also the product and services associated with it. Innovation and improvement have a tendency of being fashioned inside a company with some selective input, perhaps from big customers or lost or pending sales. Often there is an attitude of “we know what’s best for our customers.” The imagination and vision of the company’s developers is important to continually foster, but it should also be informed by input from customers. Measured and observed data is far more powerful than various anecdotes.

Onboarding can and should play a critical role in both broader and deeper product adoption and strategic guidance for company planning, product evolution, and operational excellence. Ensuring that onboarding can incorporate each of these strategies will help achieve the desired results.

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